An active-duty colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, Scott Alan Norton, M.D., M.P.H., had an early appreciation for the complexity of ecosystems.
He immersed himself in undergraduate botany classes, earning a Fulbright Scholarship to continue his botanical studies in New Zealand. That was after graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor of science degree from Tulane University.
"You have to understand the basic components of an ecosystem - in this case, plants - before you can understand anything else," he says.
Dr. Norton says he looks at virtually every aspect of life through the eyes of an ecologist, trying to appreciate how all components relate to each other.
"One cannot simply look at the patient's disease. One must also recognize the interaction between the patient and the surrounding community; the interrelationship between the disease and larger societal issues; and the transmission factors involved in a disease - 'Why did this patient get that disease?'" Dr. Norton tells Dermatology Times.
Bursting the blister beetle
Although he was stationed in the Middle East for a year, he has not deployed post-Sept. 11 to Afghanistan or Iraq.
The dermatologist most likes to figure out what stumps others. An example: blister beetle dermatitis in Iraq. For the past four years, Dr. Norton and colleagues in the army teledermatology program have periodically received photographs of soldiers with unexplained blisters scattered on their skin. He noticed that each year the cases appeared during the last week of May and first week of June.
"Something is causing this repetitive pattern in a fairly narrow window of time. Thinking as an ecologist, I was able to figure out that it was blister beetles that swarmed at night. Now I have a specimen vial on my desk showing that I was right all the way down to the species of insect" he says.
Teledermatology bridges care